Sure Signs of Spring: Tulips, Pink Lipstick, and the Beginnings of a Grammar Manifesto

Happy Vernal Equinox to all! The beginning of spring is a wonderful time to take stock of both our wardrobes and our projects and revisit what is most important to us, and for me, that means returning to my blog. Even though Grammar Fairy Godmother has been on unintentional hiatus (due to an ongoing attempt to figure out how to teach and blog at the same time),

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Trying a paler than usual lipstick

I’ve been steadily taking note of topics I want to write about in future posts—like more about the singular “they,” (see also this previous post), the verbing of nouns, and possibly my favorite thing in the world, lipstick.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to talk about grammar at the Midwest Writing Centers Association (MWCA) conference in Cedar Rapids, IA (where I also had the chance to spend some wonderful time with family). I love going to conferences, particularly writing center conferences, and while I’ve presented in the past about many different topics, I think I feel happiest in front of a group when I’m being enthusiastic about grammar and my evolving grammar philosophy.

This was a conference I particularly enjoyed. The keynote speaker was Brad Hughes from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a very well known figure in the writing center world, and the focus of his keynote address was “moon shots.” He asked us to think about what particular moon shots (think really big goals) we were making in our writing center work, and this gave me a perfect opportunity to articulate my own moon shot regarding grammar.

In essence, I believe that if we were taught grammar without the words “errors” and “rules,” but instead used “choices” and “conventions,” there would be ever so many more happy and empowered writers out there getting their ideas into the world. And isn’t it our ideas that are the most important things? Thinking about why—and when—a choice is made does so much more for a writer than does approaching a text-in-progress with anxiety that they might make a “mistake.” Clear and beautifully stated prose doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with traditionally “correct” grammar use, and I think that a change of focus in how grammar is so often discussed would do everyone a tremendous amount of good. 

March 4 was National Grammar Day, and while I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to write something here (I was actually presenting at MWCA!), you may enjoy checking out Dennis Baron’s wonderful blog post. I use one of Baron’s articles when I teach and am an avid reader of his blog, Web of Language. He provides some context for approaching grammar when he writes that “[o]n National Grammar Day, it’s traditional to pick up a red marker and go forth (it’s March 4th, get it?) to correct other people’s grammar, deleting those unnecessary apostrophe’s and turning ‘10 items or less’ into ‘fewer’ at the grocery checkout. But that would be wrong. Because language, like the earth, is not flat.”

And while I readily admit to having been that person in the past, I’ve put both my physical and metaphorical red pen down long ago.

Language is a living thing—and how wonderful and exciting it is to see it change around us! Like the seasons, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect (spring has conventions but not rules, as this somewhat chilly day tells me), but we are still continually surprised. Even if the weather isn’t quite spring-like yet, the tulips on sale at the store provide a visual reminder that I can put away my winter accessories (good-bye for now, faux fur!) for another year. And just as we don’t know how much rain we’ll get or how many sunny days there will be, isn’t it exciting to watch the days unfold? I feel even more excited about watching language change and take us to new places. I can’t wait to see what happens in the future, and I especially can’t wait to talk about it here with you! 

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Three bunches for twelve dollars!

 

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